Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.
Update No: 282 - (30/06/04)
The Byelorussians have a problem. They have a crazy president, the last dictator in Europe, Alexander Lukashenka, as their leader.
But he is playing up in agreeing to a re-election in 2006. Indeed he is agreeing to the even more bizarre idea of parliamentary elections in November of this very year.
The West intervenes
EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, a key figure in Brussels, sees the elections as offering a hope to loosen up the regime.
"The European Union is interested in seeing Belarus ending its policy of self-isolation and joining the rest of Europe in good and close cooperation," Solana said after meeting seven Belarus opposition figures. "The forthcoming parliamentary elections are an opportunity for the Belarus authorities to demonstrate their willingness to move towards democracy and shared European values."
Lukashenka, who rules the former Soviet republic with an iron fist, has been repeatedly criticised by the EU, United States and international organisation for authoritarian tactics in dealing with dissent. The West condemned the 2001 presidential elections as flawed, and at one point in 2002 the president and several other Belarus officials were barred form entering EU member states.
Lukashenka has jailed several of his top opponents and shut down newspapers that dare question his rule. Moreover, he is alleged to use a death squad to permanently 'remove' political opponents and journalists. Solana gave little indication that he expects Lukashenka to change his ways. "The current situation in Belarus remains very difficult for those opposing the present authorities," he said. "The visit of these leaders, upon the invitation of the European Union, should be seen as a sign of the Union's support to the development of an open, pluralistic and democratic Belarus."
The foreign policy chief was speaking after meeting seven opposition leaders: Valery Frolov; Vladimir Parfionovich; Anatoly Lebedko; Vintsuk Vyachorka; Vladimir Kobets; Irina Krasovskayaand Nikolai Statkevich, at his Brussels office.
Brezhnev still lives
Lukashenka is kicking off his electoral campaigns by waging war on the private sector. He is one of the world's final anti-capitalists.
He thinks that the main problem of the world, namely the endemic proclivity to there being rich and poor, is all due to capitalism. The thing to do is to ban private enterprise.
The state controls 80% of the economy. The 15 to 20% that is in private hands is regulated, and consequently re- and de-regulated, to distraction.
The curious thing is that several entrepreneurs have stayed afloat, despite everything.
But they are being persecuted. Capitalism works all the same. It is providing the buoyancy in the economy.
People are fleeing
People are fleeing the Stalinist paradise for all that. Some of them are doubtless crooks, but the majority just want a better life in the West. Lukashenka hopes to secure Western help to stop or at least stem the outflow.
Belarus needs the West's financial support to go ahead with its fight against illegal migration, Lukashenka said recently. Speaking at a meeting with International Organisation for Migration Director General, Brunson McKinley, Lukashenka said: "We (Belarus) are actively countering illegal migration, particularly efforts to criminalize western society. But we cannot do this free of charge. We are not a charity organisation. We would like your organisation and western countries to help finance the fight against illegal migration. Otherwise, we will not be able to fulfil our functions before the international community because we do not have the funds for this. This is not a difficult issue since Belarus bears most of the burden of countering illegal migration in central Europe. A legal groundwork in line with international standards has been established in Belarus."
Volvo to the rescue?
Its strategic position and low wages make Belarus interesting for foreign investors despite everything. It is now the buffer zone between Russia and the EU!
Swedish automobile concern, Volvo, one of the largest truck producers in Europe, is considering setting up assembly production in Belarus, a source in the press service of the Belarussian Transport and Communications Ministry, said.
Volvo is currently putting together a development plan for the next 10 years and in connection with this is considering investing in Belarus, Lindoff Lennart, head of the Volvo representation in Belarus, said at a meeting. "The strategic position of Belarus has recently become more significant. You not only occupy a very profitable position between the East and West and border the CIS, but now your borders have reached the European Union. Our company sees grounds for successful development. Volvo's position is as follows: We believe in the success of Belarus," Lennart said.
Belarus, Russia sign gas deal for 2004
In 2004 Russian gas giant, Gazprom, will be supplying gas to Belarus at US$46.68 per 1,000 cubic metres. The gas transit rate for 2004 is set at 75 cents per 1,000 cubic metres per 100 kilometres, Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Fradkov, said at a news conference in Minsk, Interfax News Agency reported.
Chairman of the Board of Gazprom, Aleksey Miller, and Director General of Belarusian gas distributor Beltranshaz, Pyotr Pyotukh, signed a contract recently on the volume and terms of gas deliveries to Belarus and on gas transit through Belarus in 2004. Belarusian Prime Minister, Syarhey Sidorski, said these figures would be considered as a basis for the establishment of gas prices and transit rate in 2005.
Mikhail Fradkov said that the gas prices and transit rates for 2004 were most acceptable for both parties. "I believe that these conditions are most acceptable for furthering cooperation," the Russian prime minister said. He added that the conditions accepted by both parties would promote the establishment of a joint gas distribution company by Beltranshaz and Gazprom.
Commenting on the signed contract, Sidorski told journalists "this price has been in effect for Belarus since the start of the year." "This is a good commercial price for both Gazprom and Beltranshaz," he added. He pointed out that Belarus "managed to adjust to this price" as it had been buying gas at commercial prices from Russian independent suppliers since the start of this year. Sidorski said that the transit rate of 75 cents "is acceptable."
"This is a commercial price and will remain unchanged in 2004," he said. He added that the rate would be used a basis for determining the terms for 2005.
Belarus, Russia sign gas pipeline ownership deal
Belarus and Russia signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the utilization of gas pipelines on the Belarusian territory. A protocol confirming Russian ownership of the assets of Zapad-Transnefteprodukt company located in Belarus and those of related communication companies was part of the agreement, Belapan News Agency.
The documents were signed during a session of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Union State of Belarus and Russia by First Deputy Prime Minister, Uladzimir Syamashka, and Russian Minister of Industry and Energy, Viktor Khristenko.
Zapad-Transnefteprodukt is the operator of a pipeline system in Belarus that delivers oil products to terminals in Latvia and Ukraine. The issue of its ownership has long been a sticking point in Russian-Belarusian relations.
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